I was teaching one day a leadership course for a large healthcare company at the Oakland Convention Center. There were about a thousand managers and union leaders in the room. One women sitting near the front, was given a microphone and rose speak to me and to the entire room . It takes a lot of courage to speak up in front of thousands leaders-including top executives-so I was curious to hear what she was about to say.
“I have read many of the things that you have written and have been to your course a couple of times before,” she said.
“There is one thing that you have always left out in your teaching that I believe you should add.” I leaned forward with interest to learn that what I have been leaving out for all these years. You always talk about the value of asking direct reports, ‘How can I be a better manager?’ Or asking co-workers, How can I be a better team player? ‘Or asking customers,’ How I can be a better supplier? ‘And even asking partners or children, How can I be a better partner or better parent?’
The one thing that you have always left out that you should start teaching everyone is to ask their parents, *’How I can be a better daughter or a better son?'”* She went on with her personal story.
“After my last course with you, as you suggested, I asked my daughter, ‘What can I do to be a better mother?’ We had a wonderful discussion. Then I thought, why not call my mother? I called and asked her, ‘What can I do to be a better daughter?’
“Mom said ‘Now that Dad is dead, I live all alone. Every day I walk up that long drive to go to the mailbox. Almost every day there is nothing in it. This makes me feel very lonely. It would mean so much for me if you could send me some cards; or pictures, or notes.’
“After our talk, I started sending cards, pictures and notes to my mother so when she walked to the mailbox there would be something there. What did that cost me? Nothing. What did that mean to my mom? Everything. Please teach the people you meet to ask their parents,’ what can I do to be a better daughter or son?”
I still get tears in my eyes when I think about this women and her mother, and I have included her story in almost every class I have conducted for the past year.
This good advice for three reasons:
1) It is good for them. Even if they say,” There is nothing you can do to be a better son or daughter,” they will be happy that you cared enough to ask.
2) It is good for you. The No.1 regret that children have when their parents die:” why didn’t they let them know how much I appreciated all that they did for me?”
3) If you have children, asking your parent(s) how you can be a better child is good for your children, too. You know that old person-your parent-whom you’re calling on the phone?
To be a good daughter, son, husband, brother or citizen… is every individuals responsibility.